Muscle cramps are painful spasms which happen during or after exercise, regardless of whether you are at rest or asleep, when your muscle goes into a hard, contracted state and you can’t relax it. The pain usually subsides after a few seconds or minutes thankfully rarely does it last for 15 minutes or more! Cramps can come back a few times before eventually subsiding moving from your position, walking around or a light jog (my son tells me).
Muscle cramps do not usually have serious long-term effects however they may be a sign of an underlying health condition or just after exercising and nothing to worry about but always check with your doctor to be certain.
What causes cramps?
Surprisingly, the exact cause of cramps is still unknown, however causes which may lead to them are:
- overexertion (straining or overusing a muscle), or after strenuous activity such as running a maratho
- lack of fitness or specific training
- a lack of electrolytes in your diet (sodium from salt)
- a loss of electrolytes from your body through sweating
- exercising in hot weather
- a poor training technique
How can I treat cramps?
The first thing to do when the cramp comes on is DO something to ease the pain.
Tips to help relieve it:
- STOP whatever exercise you’re doing.
- Gently stretch the cramped muscle, hold until your muscle relaxes – ask a friend to help you.
- Gently massage the muscle.
- Walk around a little or go for a gentle jog.
- You may initially want to apply some heat to your muscle to relax it. After this, ice may give some relief – use an ice pack or ice wrapped in a towel. Don’t apply ice directly to your skin as it can damage your skin.
- Drink some water to replace any fluids you may have lost
- Gently massage the muscle.
- Walk around a little or go for a gentle jog
- Apply some heat to your muscle to relax it initially
- After, ice may give some relief – use an ice pack or ice wrapped in a towel. Don’t apply ice directly to your skin as it can burn your skin.
- Drink water to replace any lost fluids.
Any muscle can go into spasm, however, cramps affect mainly the muscle groups, so specifically to treat:
Cramp in your calf gastrocnemius:
- stand in a lunge position
- stretch your affected leg out straight behind you.
Cramp in your quadriceps – thigh muscles
- stand upright,
- lift your ankle towards your buttocks while holding the top of your foot.
- pull your heel gently in towards your buttocks to stretch.
Relieve cramp in your hamstring muscles:
- sit down,
- stretch your leg out in front of you,
- keeping your knee straight,
- lean forward to touch your foot.
How do I prevent cramps?
Prevention is better than cure!
To prevent injuries and cramp, before they happen:
Build up the intensity and duration of your training gradually so your body will have time to adjust to the increasing activity.
Make sure you stay well hydrated while you’re exercising. Urine colour is a useful indicator of how hydrated you are. Generally, dark urine suggests that you’re dehydrated, with the paler yellow urine being ideal in fact the paler the better!
Warming up and stretching
Start exercising with a gentle warm-up before you move to more intensive exercise. Stretching your muscles reduces your chances of developing injuries, including cramp, improving on your flexibility so the benefit of stretching before or after exercise for preventing injury is unproven idea;;y do both to warm up and warm down is what PE teachers tell you/students.
However, if you regularly get muscle cramps, see your GP or physiotherapist for advice.
Be prepared before training/exercise:
- Build up your training gradually.
- Drink enough water before, during and after exercising – how much you need will depend on how thirsty you feel.
- Wear the right clothes with properly fitting trainers when you exercise.
- See your doctor/GP if you regularly get cramps.
Exercise wisely it’s great to exercise however it is so easy to overdo it or not drink enough water – I know I live up a big hill however depending on which way I go depends on how steep the gradient is and I need to build up my fitness gradually no think I can push myself too fast or with too much sudden exertion!